Minority cannot continue to claim rugby for itself
Opinion / 15 February 2019, 11:25pm / Mark Keohane
The lie is that rugby is transforming at schools level when you consider the statistical return of Springboks among the country’s elite rugby schools.
The Rapport newspaper’s report on the effects of professionalism on schools rugby was revealing in that 44% of the Springboks selected since 1996 came from just 25 schools. The most startling statistic was that of the 131 players who became Springboks from these schools, 119 were white!
It is still a game dominated by the country’s minority. There has to be a continued focus on this for it to ever change.
Transformation is about opportunity and clearly this isn’t happening in too many schools that focus so intensely on rugby as the premier sport. I was shocked at how few black and coloured Springboks came from the 25 elite school feeders to the Springboks.
It is also equally depressing how few black and coloured coaches we have in South African professional rugby.
Super Rugby is again an all-white affair when it comes to head coaches. There has to be an emphasis on changing this. It simply can’t continue to be so white-dominated. There was a 100-year history of black rugby before unity and yet there is so little to show for this history in the professional arena.
Black coaches struggle to get an opportunity in the professional ranks. White players retire and are coaching professionally within two or three years. It is so skewed. Too many continue to defend the status quo. It must be challenged every day of the week.
Rugby can’t be the game of the people when a minority still controls it.
And it is this minority that keeps on insisting the game is changing and transforming.
The fabric of the South African professional game remains white. The numbers don’t lie. There has been an improvement in playing squad numbers, but they are nowhere near what they should be.
In a previous column, I lamented the situation and the absolute disregard from within regions to even come close to a 50% split.
When you assess the numbers of black and coloured players selected during the opening weekend of Super Rugby, it is obvious that the Springbok World Cup squad won’t be split racially 50% black and 50% white.
This was rugby’s promise to the government in 2011 when the racial make-up of the World Cup squad was white-dominated. The problem is not with the Springboks but with the Super Rugby regions.
Every Super Rugby coach must make it a priority when it comes to black player selection. They have to give Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus the biggest possible pool of players.
This year should only be about doing what is best for the Springboks’ World Cup prospects.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way in South African rugby.
There have been huge improvements in communication between the national coach and regional coaches, but in a World Cup year there should be intent from each region that every sacrifice will be made to accommodate the preparations of the Springboks to send a fully transformed squad to the tournament - a transformed squad that is good enough to have a chance of glory.
* The international sport story of the week was England cricket captain Joe Root telling West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel that there was nothing wrong with being gay, so he shouldn’t attempt to use it as an insult.
Gabriel had asked Root why he kept on looking at him and whether it was because he liked boys. Gabriel has since apologised and was banned for four ODI internationals.
Prejudice in any form has to be dealt with. Fair play to the ICC.
Fair play to Root for the class of his response.
Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and the head of sport at Independent Media